November 13, 2015

Maoism on the Missouri from #ConcernedStudent1950

New Missouri university system interim chancellor
Michael Middleton
As I saw the so-called Concerned Student 1950's demands of former Mizzou president Tim Wolfe in my original blog post about the mess at Mizzou, my first thought was that points 2 and 4 aren't too bad, though they could be nuanced more.

(Update: Michael Middleton, an assistant chancellor at the Columbia campus, has now been named interim president of the Missouri system; he is also one of the founders of the Legion of Black Collegians.)

Point 3? I didn't originally know what was asked in 1969 by the Legion of Black Collegians, but I'm going to get to that in moment. Points 6-8 generally sound pretty good.

Point 1? Sounds like an exercise in Maoist indoctrination. And, it spoils everything else for me.

And, now that I found the actual 1969 demands, no, I think I'll pass on Point 3. Even if Middleton keeps a copy in his desk, at the story says.

That said, let's first go back to Point 1 of the list of demands for today by Concerned Student 1950. It sets the tenor for the whole situation, and per the old cliche, "first impressions make lasting impressions."

I quote:
We demand that the University of Missouri System President, Tim Wolfe, writes a handwritten apology to the Concerned Student 1-­9-­5-0 demonstrators and holds a press conference in the Mizzou Student Center reading the letter. In the letter and at the press conference, Tim Wolfe must acknowledge his white male privilege, recognize that systems of oppression exist, and provide a verbal commitment to fulfilling Concerned Student 1-9-5-­0 demands. We want Tim Wolfe to admit to his gross negligence, allowing his driver to hit one of the demonstrators, consenting to the physical violence of bystanders, and lastly refusing to intervene when Columbia Police Department used excessive force with demonstrators.
Maoism on the Missouri, overall. And, a horrible first impression, as already noted.

I'm going to give a serious take, but one with a heavy dose of snark mixed in.

First, for digital-first Millennials, what? An apology Tweet wasn’t enough? A Facebook post? Not even a Word document with a scanned JPG facsimile of Wolfe’s signature? No, a handwritten confession. How 1960s!

(And so much for the idea that digital is better, eh?)

Second, what, not have him talk about why he’s resigning? Just reading the letter verbatim? That’s where we get into Maoism on the Missouri. A confession. A pleading of ignorance. I'm surprised that he wasn't asked to request the privilege of re-education. That he wasn't told he needed to ask to be sent to a labor camp out in the provinces.

Third, a protest of students around Wolfe drew counterprotestors, yes. Whether he “consented” to them or not is a different story. As for whether or not excessive force was used or not, I don’t know. And I assume it was Mizzou police, not city of Columbia police, involved.

As for other protests, via CNN?

In 1969, only the man, Jonathan Butler (see link near bottom of page)
would have been allowed to present the demands being presented today
under the spirit of 1969. (Screen grab from CNN link above.)
I find the Michael Brown "parody" disgusting. But, it's protected speech. Now, if "a local club" is a university fraternity, the U can — and should have — suspended its operations, IMO. But, if "a local club" is something different, it's probably out of Mizzou's control, period. Per the story, it appears to be the latter. Yes, college students don't know every in and out of the First Amendment. However, "teaching moments" cut both ways. If you're truly liberal-minded, it's the opportunity now to learn more about the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, per my first blog post on this subject, adult professors at Mizzou like Melissa Click, who should know better, don't. Or don't care to know better, which I honestly think is more likely.

But, back to the actual 1969 demands and seeing what was demanded.

Now we’re going to get interesting.

Point 1:
There will be the set up of a $300,000 contingency fund to supplement the salaries of potential Black faculty, staff, and other professionals. This fund is to be used in the event that the University or a particular University department cannot meet the salary request of a Black applicant. For example: A Black applies to be a professor in the chemistry department and asks for a salary of $20,000 annually; the department can’t pay him but $15,000; therefore, the extra $5000 would come from the aforementioned fund.
What if he wants $20,000 for a $15,000 position? Is the U still supposed to pay up? After all, per 538, even if there weren't a "supplemental fund," today, Mizzou would have a long ways to go to have a 10 percent black faculty.

The link, seriously, is good for other data, noting that graduation rates for black students have been slumping even as those for other ethnicities rise. I suspect that spiraling academic costs, which may lead more minorities to need to work more, or face more loans, is part of the problem. But, how much of this is a blacks-only issue and how much is a class issue, and why?

And, secondly, yeah, it’s the 1960s, but didn’t feminism exist back then? Where’s “he or she” instead of “he”?

Point 2(c):
Job positions will be rearranged ·to accomodate [sic] Blacks. For example: A white instructor can teach 20th Century History and 17th Century History; and incoming Black can teach only 20th Century History; there is an opening in the 17th Century position; therefore, even though the white professor is in the 20th Century position, he will be moved to the 17th Century thereby creating an opening to accomodate [sic] the Black.
What if the shoe were on the other foot?

Or, per above, a white woman were looking for a professorship and a black male was blocking her?

The rest of Point 2 is in similar vein. I have always supported affirmative action breaking ties on equally qualified candidates. I have supported affirmative action as part of remedies for past redresses.  But, to use it to shunt aside, demote, or otherwise ... Balkanize, can't help but say it, current white professors is a different story.

Take 2(c). Let such a black would-be professor start as an instructor.

Point 3 is halfway acceptable or more, but again, fails to look at women's issues.

Points 4-5 are OK. Point 6 would be OK if it squared with funding levels of other similar campus organizations.

Point 8? Now we’re back to nonsense:
There will be the set up of an academic bankruptcy program for the entire campus. This program will allow a student to drop an entire semester from his records for justifiable circumstances. These circumstances will be determined per case by the council described in point #3 for Blacks and other non-white students.
I would disagree with this for students in general. I would explicitly disagree with it for minority students potentially getting extra-favorable handling.

Now, in 1969, minority struggles on college campuses were more dire than today, not to discount them today. Such a demand might have been acceptable then, or might not. Today? No.

There’s nothing major wrong, and certainly a number of things right, on Points 9-15.

Besides the big issue of carve-outs, and the arguably even bigger (and petard-hoisting) issue of the 1969 demands ignoring women, I have another concern, or issue.

That's that the protestors couldn't even bother to update this. It's like boilerplate. I have no idea how many of the original demands were met or not.

Per a column in the Omaha World Herald about protest leader Jonathan Butler, I would expect more thoughtfulness and more thoroughness.

How many of the women in that screen grab are aware of the males-only stance of the 1969 demands? How much is Butler aware? Is this something that's simply attained mythic status among black students at Mizzou?

Santayana springs to mind once again in my life.

Meanwhile, I'm not going to give a race-baiting mag like The American Conservative the time of day by posting here. Yes, I wish I had the money Butler's family does. Yes, I wish (and still hope) that someone like him would look beyond "race" to socioeconomic status; he might actually help his cause more. Given that his dad is an executive vice president for marketing and sales, I might wish that he asked his dad, or his mom.  And, on the privilege angle, money has its own privileges; Tim Wolfe might have come from a much poorer family than Jonathan Butler

Otherwise, on black culture, I've never sung "Lift Every Voice and Sing," but I have sung "We Shall Overcome" many a time, at black-themed and black-majority events.

Next, speaking of such things, and that column one more time, I wish that more black secularists step up to the plate of supporting all calls for full protection of black civil liberties, a both firm and reasonable use of the tools of affirmative action, and more, within a realistic, but non-dilatory, framework.

Finally, with Middleton's appointment, especially if it becomes permanent, let's hope that
A. He has a somewhat more nuanced view than at least some Legion of Black Collegians may have had in 1969;
B. As a lawyer who's worked for the Department of Justice, he has a firm understanding of, and firm support for, all aspects of the First Amendment, including both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Behind bits of my snark here and there, this is a serious post.

And, contra many conservatives, I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater at today's higher ed. I don't want remote regurgitators trained. I want critical thinkers trained. If that's "anti-conservative," so be it. If your political ideas can't stand the light of critical thought, that's your problem. The same goes for the New New Left.

As for conservatives, beyond the fact that there's no systemic anti-conservative bias in the actual teaching and thinking of academia nearly as much as there is an anti-academia bias in the lack of critical thinking of many conservatives, the whole issue of corporatization of the American university is a serious issue. It is another one that Middleton needs to address, but that is probably unbeknown, or even unconsidered by, Concerned Student 1950. It's also one where Middleton probably has a short leash, even if he does think it's a concern.

What is arguably Fredrik deBoer's nutgraf is buried almost two-thirds of the way down his piece:
Current conditions result in neither the muscular and effective student activism favored by the defenders of current campus politics nor the emboldened, challenging professors that critics prefer. Instead, both sides seem to be gradually marginalized in favor of the growing managerial class that dominates so many campuses. 
He goes on to note that corporatized universities have reasons for that. Like this:
Yes, students get to dictate increasingly elaborate and punitive speech codes that some of them prefer. But what could be more corporate or bureaucratic than the increasingly tight control on language and culture in the workplace? Those efforts both divert attention from the material politics that the administration often strenuously opposes (like divestment campaigns) and contribute to a deepening cultural disrespect for student activism.
Hence my note that Middleton might be on a tight leash on effecting real socioeconomic change — if he even supports making such change. Maybe he’s already been co-opted.

And, without even noting that the corporatized model is part of what’s behind the cutting of tenure-track faculty positions, deBoer goes on to note:
Professors, meanwhile, cling for dear life, trying merely to preserve whatever tenure track they can, prevented by academic culture, a lack of coordination and interdepartmental resentments from rallying together as labor activists. 
Indeed. Corporatization as Balkanization.

Finally, the end result:
That the contemporary campus quiets the voices of both students and teachers — the two indispensable actors in the educational exchange — speaks to the funhouse-mirror quality of today’s academy.
That’s another weapon for conservatives.


(And, yes, there will be another follow-up piece. Much of it will be a more in-depth look at deBoer.)

2 comments:

Sprickoló Tömegek said...

"I want critical thinkers trained. If that's "anti-conservative," so be it. If your political ideas can't stand the light of critical thought, that's your problem. The same goes for the New New Left."

And pray tell, from which worldview do you intend to "critically think" from?

From the 'right one' you deny having, I presume?

Gadfly said...

If you'd read the description of this blog, you'd see that I identify as a left-liberal, at least in US terms, but a skeptical left-liberal.

Obviously, that's a world you don't inhabit, sadly.